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 12:00 AM, 16-FEBRUARY-05
  SF Authors Sting Publisher

A group of more than 30 SF and fantasy authors, upset at one book publisher's marketing tactics and its derogatory comments about SF in general, perpetrated a hoax against the publisher, several members told SCI FI Wire.

PublishAmerica, based in Frederick, Md., purports to be a traditional publisher, not a so-called "vanity publisher," which charges authors a fee to print their books. But James D. Macdonald decided to test that assertion by coming up with an intentionally awful bogus book, Atlanta Nights by Travis Tea, to be written by several SF&F authors and submitted to PublishAmerica to test the publisher's standards. When the publisher accepted the book for publication, the writers revealed the hoax, and the publisher withdrew its offer of publication. "The fact that they'd attacked science-fiction and fantasy writers [as] untalented hacks provided the motivation and the avenue of approach," Macdonald said in an interview. On its Web site, PublishAmerica said, "[SF and fantasy writers] have no clue about what it is to write real-life stories, and how to find them a home."

Several young authors also have complained to Writer Beware, a Web site run by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, alleging that they were duped into signing with PublishAmerica, said Ann Crispin, a Washington, D.C.,-based author who volunteers running Writer Beware.

Macdonald conceived Atlanta Nights in the spirit of Naked Came the Stranger, a 1969 hoax perpetrated by Newsday columnist Mike McGrady and several well-known writers and critics, in which everyone wrote a chapter that was sexually explicit and deliberately inconsistent with other chapters. It was a runaway hit.

For Atlanta Nights, Macdonald asked several authors, including Sean P. Fodera and Victoria Strauss, to write the worst prose possible, using only sketchy details about characters and events to occur. The book was full of mistakes and inside jokes. There are two chapter 12s, no chapter 21 and a computer-generated chapter 34. Two authors wrote about a wedding of two characters, and there are many misplaced modifiers, malapropisms, spacing errors, incorrect descriptions and laughably bad writing (from Sherwood Smith's chapter 1: "Her [breasts] belonged to a beautiful face carved out of ice and whipped cream, with a pair of glowing emerald eyes"). Even the author's name was a joke when spoken fast.

As the group hoped and Macdonald said he expected, PublishAmerica offered a contract. "We'd suspected that they offer contracts to essentially anything that's sent them, and that they don't read submissions before accepting them," Macdonald said. After the group went public, PublishAmerica sent a letter of rejection. Asked to comment, a PublishAmerica spokeswoman asked that questions be e-mailed. As of press time, the publisher had not responded to SCI FI Wire's questions.

Macdonald said this isn't the end of sting manuscripts heading PublishAmerica's way. "Kevin Yarbrough sent in a manuscript that consisted of the same 30 pages repeated 10 times, and had it accepted," Macdonald said. "Dee Power has a sting manuscript that they've accepted. I'm sure that there are others in the works." Curious readers can buy Atlanta Nights, with proceeds going to the SFWA's Emergency Medical Fund.
 


 

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